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1:41pm on Saturday, 27th July, 2013:

Experiment Away


1980s humour: women's magazines are packed full of pictures of women wearing different clothes; men's magazines are the same but without the clothes.

Suppose that as an MMO designer, you wanted to reduce the level of sexism experienced by female players. It occurs to you that one way to do this would be to make every player character in the game be female. It's going to be harder for men to be dismissive of women if they're using a female avatar.

Now you might have some reservations. You'd lose a lot of potential male players who won't play a female character under any circumstances, and you'd lose a smaller number of female players who insist on only playing male characters. You'd gain some male players who would use the situation to exhibit negative stereotypes, but they'd probably tire after a while. You could hope to gain some more female players, but if you conveyed the impression that you were doing all this specifically to attract female players then you could well lose some instead — no-one likes to be patronised.

In short, you couldn't be sure what would happen unless you tried it.

In the days of text MUDs, you could actually try it. I don't know of any MUDs that did (although there were some that only allowed female players), but the point is that if anyone wanted to try it then they could have done so. This is because a small number of people could create a MUD from scratch in under a year, or less than that if they were using an engine.

If you wanted to try this today, the risk of failure would be the same but the stake would be much higher. It's expensive to make an MMO, even if you have an existing engine. You need a large team to do it. If you succeed, OK, well you achieved your goal and your MMO will be a friendlier place for female players; it may even make a little more money, although that wasn't why you were doing it. If you fail, though, you just lost several million dollars.

The same applies to any large artistic statement you want to make through your design: it comes with a risk. The further you are from the paradigm, the greater is that risk. The rewards aren't necessarily commensurate for success, either, because you weren't doing it for money, you were doing it because you wanted to say something. In a text MUD, you could say it and not care if no-one heard: at least you got to say it. With today's MMOs, you don't even get to say it.

Hmm, maybe I ought to change the classification for this post to "Rant"...

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